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Ireland has a dog in the Greek election race


Christine Lagarde of IMF with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan at last week's conference in Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Christine Lagarde of IMF with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan at last week's conference in Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Christine Lagarde of IMF with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan at last week's conference in Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Today is D-Day for Greece. And it could be an awkward one for Enda too.

Greece's left-wing Syriza party is poised for power. Its principal promise is to put Greek debt back on the table.

Sound familiar? Remember all the Irish guff about "Frankfurt's way..."? Remember the rhetoric about "Not one more red cent..."?

Four years ago, Ireland's opposition of Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore was gung ho, committed to renegotiating our debt. They rattled their sabres. The electorate gave them the go-ahead. Within days of gaining power, they had surrendered to our creditors. Debt forgiveness was off the table.

This Sunday, debt forgiveness is back in play. Just when Ireland's Government is claiming that it has steered us out of our debt trap, the Greeks are threatening to upset the European project. The difference is obvious: Alexis Tsipras, leader of the militant Syriza party means what he says. Enda and Eamon were bluffing.

Enda must be praying that a miracle saves him. He must be watching the opinion polls in Athens more closely than the political winds in Mayo. If Syriza wins, it may spell trouble for Europe - but it could herald a domestic crisis for Enda. Worse still if Tsipras successfully renegotiates the crippling Greek debt burden. If a "red cent" of Greek debt is written off by Greece's European creditors, Enda will look like a patsy. Greece will have succeeded where Ireland failed.

This morning Enda will undoubtedly mutter a silent prayer at Mass in Castlebar, pleading with the Almighty for a political miracle, a victory for New Democracy, the floundering Greek conservative party.

If Siriza wins concessions on Greece's borrowings, Ireland will be forced to join the debt forgiveness queue behind Greece. So will Portugal. We will be back in the game.

We will also be hopelessly exposed as gutless eunuchs.

Deeply indebted citizens of Ireland, worshippers of the same God , will be cheering for Tsipras, praying that we will reduce our debt on his coat-tails.

Tsipras is unlikely to be bluffing. He has given hostages to fortune galore. His whole career is built on opposition to market, banking and business excesses. Recently he may have mildly moderated his demands in the expectation of power, but he is a true believer. The gnomes of Zurich and the powerhouses in the Bundestag are shuddering at the prospect of Tsipras knocking at the doors this week.

They are talking tough, but they are undoubtedly plotting a face saver.

Tsipras simply cannot afford to beat an Irish-type retreat. He may dilute his demands to pacify a prospective coalition partner, but the battered Greek people are expecting debt forgiveness. Unemployment has doubled in five years to 26pc. The youth jobless figure stands at 50pc. The Greek economy is shrinking . Wages are tumbling by 12pc a year. The retirement age has risen from 61 to 65. The nation is drowning in debt, currently at 170pc of GDP. Poverty haunts the streets. Poor people can no longer pay for their family funerals.

Never fear, take comfort. The banks are in better condition.

Many economists insist that the Greek economy is in a death spiral. Tsipras has nothing to lose. Greece has given everything it has to give. It might as well default. Austerity may have improved the bald figures, but it has devastated the population. Greek desperation will ensure that Europe's resolve is about to be tested.

Shrewd observers are betting on Tsipras winning significant concessions. His timing is lucky, but perfect. If he challenges Europe, it will be like a dying man assaulting an invalid. The European economy and its German masters are in no condition for high-risk jousts against a Greek adventurer.

No one knows the consequences of a Greek default and exit from the euro, but Europe is the least robust economic zone in the modernised world. It is a continent in recession. It has more problems than the US or Britain. A Greek default could set off unforeseen consequences.

Angela Merkel is already fighting a war with Mario Draghi about printing money. The last news she wants to hear is that a recalcitrant Greek is about to ambush her, causing chaos to the currency and the banking system. If Syriza wins today it will be time to invite Tsipras to the top table.

Perhaps Angela will first ask Enda to take a trip to Athens to persuade the Greek impostor that there is a better way, that austerity works, that Greece can repeat Ireland's "success" if only they surrender to the austere demands of the larger nations.

Enda could explain that after a few short years of servitude Angela and IMF chief Christine Lagarde will be greeting the Greek people as "heroes" - the condescending word she used on a visit to Dublin last week to describe the Irish people's endurance of the austerity imposed by Enda and Angela.

On Monday the Taoiseach was honoured by the presence of Christine in one of the most patronising visits since her mentor - then French President Nicolas Sarkozy - came to Dublin to lecture us about our democratic decision to defeat the Lisbon referendum.

Christine came to Dublin for a lap of honour, a propaganda visit. The IMF had decided to pull a public relations stunt in Dublin. It held a conference in Dublin Castle, ostensibly as co-host with the Central Bank, but in reality it was an IMF gig. It was a mega-event with 350 attending. Although Christine described the occasion as being "sponsored by the Central Bank" the invitation- only delegates' list was decided by the IMF.

Last week, they refused to give me a copy of the guest list.

The agenda was set by the IMF. The speakers were selected by the IMF. The entire day's expenses were paid by the IMF. The Central Bank was merely a front.

Only the great and the good were invited. The speakers included such agreeable IMF poodles as Finance Minister Michael Noonan and his colleague Brendan Howlin. Backing them up were men and women on IMF message, including Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan, two voices from the European Central Bank, a duet from the European Commission and a couple of high-powered mandarins from the Department of Finance. Hardly a robust debate.

No possibility of dissent there. Funnily enough, not one of Christine Lagarde's "heroes" was invited to speak. Instead, those who approved the austerity agenda were there in force. She herself was the star turn at the end of the conference.

It had been a long day for the IMF boss. She had earlier grabbed the opportunity of the IMF gig to visit her pet poodles up in their kennels in Government buildings. After a courtesy call on Enda, she wandered along Merrion Street flanked by Michael and Brendan on their leads. Apparently it was she who insisted on walking down the street from the Taoiseach's office to the Department of Finance. By pure chance she was captured by the waiting RTE cameras, making a fine picture striding up the road leading her two lapdogs to the press conference.

Europe's mistress of spin used the media event to pour praise on Michael and Brendan but reserved her superlatives for the people of Ireland, whom she again described as "true heroes" who had made "great sacrifices". She echoed the government line, but like her friends Enda, Michael and Brendan, she forgets that "sacrifices" are voluntary. Her "heroes" are sacrificial victims, not volunteers.

In answer to an unwelcome question, she dismissed the idea of a debt conference, as recently advocated by none other than Alexis Tsipras. Noonan looked awkward. If a debt conference gains traction, the Irish Government could be compelled to attend. It could be the opening to debt forgiveness here.

Debt forgiveness is the last thing the Government wants. A good reason why we should pray for a victory for Syriza today. Ireland has a stake in the Greek election.

Sunday Indo Business